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Shane Williams column: Keep the same Wales team and let’s win a Six Nations Grand Slam

“Welsh rugby has been in meltdown off the field. Now it will take off again for another reason”


RELIEF. That’s my overriding emotion after victory in Scotland. Wales never make it easy for us to watch do they? Now for the Grand Slam!

It’s 13 matches unbeaten for Warren Gatland’s side and I think of all those games, this was the most nervous I’d been. I really thought Scotland were going to score a second try in the second half and Wales’ Six Nations hopes would go up in smoke.

When I reflect on the 80 minutes at BT Murrayfield, it was very much a game of two halves. Again, like the three previous ties in the championship so far, Wales were unable to play for 80 minutes. We must do that to beat Ireland.

Let’s look at the positives to start.

In the first half I thought Wales were excellent and I couldn’t see Scotland coming back. There were two superb tries from Josh Adams and Jonathan Davies and I think if Gareth Anscombe hadn’t struck the post with a penalty before the break, Wales would have won easily.

Josh’s try was sensational! The way he hit the line at pace, stood up Blair Kinghorn, and then left him on the seat of his pants was world class.

I can pay him no higher compliment than to say it was a finish I’d have been proud of. It was Josh’s third try in as many Six Nations games and he looks built to play Test rugby. He will only get better and better too.

If Josh’s try was a moment of  individual brilliance, Jonathan’s was more of a team effort. In years gone by we have criticised Wales for their inability to turn concerted pressure into points by butchering clear try-scoring opportunities. You can’t say that now.

Against England Cory Hill scored after 30 phases and Jonathan crossed after 23 in the game in Edinburgh. It was superb Test rugby, Wales building their attack in steps, refusing to panic, and then pouncing at the right moment.

Hadleigh Parkes played a key role in that try by hitting two fantastic lines. I thought he had a fine game in both attack and defence and more than deserved his man-of-the-match award.

Alun Wyn Jones certainly ran him close. He was just immense.

Putting it behind them: Wales are still en route for a Grand Slam despite an unsettling week for Welsh regions. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

After a week in which Welsh rugby politics had dominated the headlines it was truly remarkable the team showed the sort of character they did in the second half.

For them to make 160 tackles after the break alone sums up the commitment to the jersey the boys are showing right now.

Of course Wales would have never wanted to be in a position where that number of tackles was needed. Two things meant we had to spend the second half in reverse – the high penalty count and basic, individual errors. 

I thought referee Pascal Gauzere had an interesting match with a number of calls that could have gone either way. In the second half almost all the decisions went against Wales.

It meant they couldn’t get hold of the ball and when they did, it was quickly turned over through knock-ons or moments of madness.

There was one when Jake Ball inexplicably dropped the ball. Another when Aled Davies kicked it dead. Despite all that Wales still came out on top.

Alun Wyn was just superb. His individual performance and the way he galvanised the team around him given all that’s gone on with talk of a merger between the Scarlets and Ospreys means it will be remembered as one of his best.

He made 16 tackles while flankers Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric made 23 and 22  respectively.

The brutal nature of the Welsh collisions will have to be repeated against Ireland. Win at Principality Stadium and Wales will seal their first clean sweep since 2012. Can they do it? Yes, absolutely.

An extra day of rest could prove vital too. I played for a lot of teams and I’d like to think I can spot a side who look on the verge of something special. This Wales outfit is one of them.

They have already achieved great things – statistically becoming the best Welsh side of all time, winning in Argentina without their best players, and beating England.

A Grand Slam would top the lot and further enhance Wales’ status as genuine World Cup contenders. We have to be wary of Ireland.

Yes they haven’t been as good as they were in the Autumn in the Six Nations so far, but they always seem to produce the goods against Wales.

We will have to counteract the kicking game of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton and win the collisions. 

I was pleased to hear Liam Williams’ injury isn’t too serious and I hope he can be fit for Ireland. It’s the same for Adam Beard.

If both players can come through  I would keep the same side for Ireland. That would mean Gareth continuing at fly-half. I know he missed a kick he should have got just before half time, but the wind made for difficult conditions.

Other than that I thought he unleashed the backs outside him well before he moved to full-back when Liam went off.

Welsh rugby has been in meltdown off the field in the last week.  Now it will take off again for another reason. The excitement levels for the Grand Slam game will be through the roof. 

The atmosphere will be febrile. You won’t be able to get a ticket for love nor money. I’m already excited just thinking about it. This Championship has an echo of 2012 for me.

Wales
Grand Slam: Wales celebrate in 2012. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

That year was one to remember and I believe 2019 will be similar.

Warren’s players now need to get away from it all. They will be battered and bruised after Scotland because that was a brutal Test match.

My advice would be to try and forget about rugby. Everywhere they go now there will be talk of Saturday’s game.

If that can be avoided for the first part of the week then so much the better and then it will be down to business. Beat Ireland and Wales will seal their place in history.

As long as they learn some lessons from Edinburgh, I expect them to do just that. This is a special squad with special players. Come on Wales, only one to go now! 

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